The arrest of nine lawyers in Istanbul as part of the ongoing DHKP/C investigation – when the magnitude of reactions it has stimulated is taken into consideration – should be seen as a critical breaking point for problems regarding police practices and judicial proceedings in Turkey.
Reactions have not been limited to statements issued in Turkey. Human Rights Watch has also issued a statement saying the arrest of the lawyers has raised serious concerns about the misuse of anti-terrorism laws and arbitrary imprisonments. It has also assessed that this was a part of “a wider clampdown on those who oppose the government.”
The fact that a segment of the arrested lawyers were those known for their activist identities in the field of human rights violations – and the fact that they were particularly known to monitor cases regarding police officers involved in torture cases – are features that will inevitably affect perceptions about this operation.
One of the aspects of this incident that especially needs to be highlighted is that some of the accusations brought up created a serious credibility issue from the beginning. For example, some news stories leaked to the media claim that one of the arrested lawyers, Ebru Timtik, ordered the assassination of the Head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kağithane district, lawyer Zeynel Öztürk. In light of this claim, Öztürk has taken on his friend Timtik’s defense and Öztürk and Timtik posed for a photograph together at the courthouse in response to the accusation.
The second important aspect is the widespread opinion that the conduct of the operation went too far when Istanbul police launched it via choppers at 4 a.m. Jan. 18. Additionally, there were serious rights violations during the operation. According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, when a raid is organized at a lawyer’s office, a prosecutor has to be present; whereas at certain stages of this operation, the police entered the offices without waiting for the prosecutor, though upon warnings, they awaited the prosecutor’s arrival.
Head of the Bar Union in Turkey Ahsen Coşar issued a statement saying that during the operation, defense rights provisions of both international agreements and national legislation were violated. One of the aspects Coşar pointed out was that, according to Article 130 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a “court decision” is required to search lawyers’ offices, whereas a majority of the decisions issued for the lawyers’ offices were “decisions of the office of the judge.”
There are other problematic situations, like the taking of blood and DNA samples from some lawyers by force. For example, Timtik said in her statement to the judge that “blood, hair and saliva samples were taken from [her] with swearing, while subjected to insults and by stepping on her.” Another arrested lawyer, head of the Contemporary Lawyers Association Selçuk Kozağaçlı said, “My blood and DNA samples were taken from me by stepping on my head in the corridor of Haseki Hospital.”
The fact that even lawyers are subject to these types of practices involuntarily triggers the question of what would happen to the ordinary citizen in similar situations.
Another thought-provoking aspect is that police have been engaged in the debate by issuing a comprehensive press release accusing the suspects. This situation will reinforce the perception that has emerged recently that the police exceed boundaries in investigations conducted by prosecutors and that prosecutors remain under the shadow of the police.
And, again, the issue of secret witnesses; one of the judge’s justifications for the arrests consists of secret witness testimonies regarding the lawyers.
With the recent lawyer operation, an important threshold has been passed. A significant outcome of the arrests is the reality that the control of the police force has become one of the most important issues before democracy and rule of law in Turkey has been revealed to everyone in its full nakedness.Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Jan. 24. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.